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Women's organisations call for council to recommission Plaistow-based refuge provider London Black Women's Project

PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 November 2019 | UPDATED: 13:30 06 November 2019

Campaigners staged a protest outside the councils main offices in July over fears the London Black Women's Project would be decommissioned by the council.. Picture: Vicki Couchman.

Campaigners staged a protest outside the councils main offices in July over fears the London Black Women's Project would be decommissioned by the council.. Picture: Vicki Couchman.

Vicki Couchman

Women's organisations have written an open letter to mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz and her cabinet calling on the council to re-instate its funding for the Plaistow-based London Black Women's Project (LBWP), which has run refuges in east London for 32 years.

Dozens of people protested the decommissioning of the London Black Women's Project. Picture: Luke Acton.Dozens of people protested the decommissioning of the London Black Women's Project. Picture: Luke Acton.

They want the council's decision to award the borough's refuge contract to another provider from December to be reversed at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, November 5.

Cabinet members will consider whether to instead undertake a new procurement process for a contract beginning in December 2020 - and if so, whether to extend the LBWP contract for another 12 months to ensure the service continues to be provided in the meantime.

The letter to Ms Fiaz has been signed by Imkaan, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, The Fawcett Society, Women's Aid and Rape Crisis England & Wales among others.

It states: "LBWP services were developed more than three decades ago from the grassroots up to meet the specific and unique needs of BME women and children in the community who are arguably the most marginalised.

"LBWP understands the barriers that BME communities face and have shaped their work to reflect these specific needs via ... support services that are run by and for women from the communities they wish to serve."

In the past year, LBWP has supported more than 170 women and children through the refuge service and provided counselling, legal advice and advocacy support to more than 600 women and girls, according to director Rena Sodhi.

"We cannot stand by while our vital, life-saving services, which have been built by and for BME women, are decimated and destroyed by funding decisions such as this one," she said.

"Council leaders and others need to understand that there is a very big difference between funding large, non-specialist organisations with no base in the borough (and) supporting specialist smaller local charities that understand the specific cultural and intersectional needs of the women we work with."

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The contract held by LBWP, which expires on November 31, was initially awarded in 2012 and has been extended three times since.

Earlier this year, the council undertook a procurement process for the new contract, which it says was "prudent" due to "legal and governance risks" created by the extensions as well as the need to review and update the provision agreement.

Cabinet has now been recommended to scrap the current procurement process to allow for full consideration of the council's recently-adopted community wealth building strategy in the commission of the service, with a decision to be made at Tuesday's meeting.

In their letter, the women's organisations argue smaller specialists like LBWP are "set up to fail" against larger, generic providers by procurement processes.

"Tendering and procurement processes can adversely impact small voluntary and community sector organisations that are embedded within communities," it states.

"What is necessary is ring-fenced grant funding that will allow LBWP to securely and sustainably continue their life-saving and life-changing work."

LBWP provides services for 25 people across four shelters in the borough.

The council has said it intends to maintain the current level of service, supporting the same number of vulnerable women.

Campaigners staged a protest outside the council's main offices in July.

The council was contacted for a response to the letter this week.

A Newham spokesman said: "This is a live procurement matter and the council is unable to pass comment on it ahead of the meeting of cabinet on November 5, as any statement could prejudice the discussions and decisions made as part of the open democratic process."

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